WASHINGTON — Declaring “no child of God should ever suffer such horror” as the “Black Tuesday” neurotoxin attack on a Syrian neighborhood, President Trump ordered a flurry of cruise missiles fired at the airbase from which the Assad regime planes that struck Khan Shaykhun originated.
Fifty-nine Tomahawks from two U.S. warships in the Mediterranean, the USS Ross and USS Porter, targeted Shayrat Airfield in Homs province at 4:40 a.m. local time. Defense officials reportedly used radar tracking to pinpoint the base as the originating location of the planes bearing an agent that produced symptoms consistent with sarin.
Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said the missiles “targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars.”
“As always, the U.S. took extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties and to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict,” Davis said. “Every precaution was taken to execute this strike with minimal risk to personnel at the airfield.”
“The strike was a proportional response to Assad’s heinous act. Shayrat Airfield was used to store chemical weapons and Syrian air forces. The U.S. intelligence community assesses that aircraft from Shayrat conducted the chemical weapons attack on April 4. The strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.”
Defense officials informed Russia ahead of time about the planned airstrike time and location, citing their previous deconfliction agreement to improve flight safety after near-misses as the Russians flew missions with Assad forces against Assad’s opposition and the U.S. flew missions against ISIS. “U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield,” Davis said.
The Pentagon is assessing the results of the strike, but “initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons,” Davis said.
“The use of chemical weapons against innocent people will not be tolerated,” he added.
Pentagon sources told CNN that they believe Russians were at the airfield when the sarin attacks were launched earlier in the week. Arab reports tonight indicated Hezbollah were among the casualties at the base.
“Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women, and children,” Trump said in a message to the country tonight from Mar-a-Lago. “It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack.”
Trump emphasized “it is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”
“There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council,” he said. “Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically. As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies.”
“Tonight, I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types. We ask for God’s wisdom as we face the challenge of our very troubled world. We pray for the lives of the wounded and for the souls of those who have passed. And we hope that as long as America stands for justice, then peace and harmony will, in the end, prevail.”
Also down at Mar-a-Lago, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster told reporters that “there were three options we discussed with the president” at the National Security Council,” and Trump “asked us to focus on two options in particular, to mature those options.”
After “two rather large and formal meetings” and “a far-reaching discussion, the president decided to act,” McMaster said.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the administration “coordinated very carefully with our international partners in terms of communicating with them around the world.”
“I would tell you that the response from our allies, as well as the region and the Middle East has been overwhelmingly supportive of the action we taken,” he said, adding that he personally believed Trump “made the correct choice and made the correct decision.”
Trump’s action drew praise from some of his foreign policy detractors. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a joint statement that “unlike the previous administration, President Trump confronted a pivotal moment in Syria and took action.”
“For that, he deserves the support of the American people. Building on tonight’s credible first step, we must finally learn the lessons of history and ensure that tactical success leads to strategic progress,” they added. “That means following through with a new, comprehensive strategy in coordination with our allies and partners to end the conflict in Syria.”
“The first measure in such a strategy must be to take Assad’s air force — which is responsible not just for the latest chemical weapons attack, but countless atrocities against the Syrian people — completely out of the fight. We must also bolster support for the vetted Syrian opposition and establish safe zones to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis. As we do, we can and must continue the campaign to achieve ISIS’s lasting defeat.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that “making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do.”
“It is incumbent on the Trump administration to come up with a strategy and consult with Congress before implementing it,” Schumer added. “I salute the professionalism and skill of our Armed Forces who took action today.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called the strikes “appropriate and just.”
“These tactical strikes make clear that the Assad regime can no longer count on American inaction as it carries out atrocities against the Syrian people,” Ryan said. “Resolving the years-long crisis in Syria is a complex task, but Bashar al-Assad must be held accountable and his enablers must be persuaded to change course. I look forward to the administration further engaging Congress in this effort.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was not as pleased as his congressional colleagues: “While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked,” he said. “The president needs congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution, and I call on him to come to Congress for a proper debate.”
“Our prior interventions in this region have done nothing to make us safer, and Syria will be no different,” Paul added.
And there was bipartisan agreement that Congress wants to be involved: “Whatever the merits of a military strike on Syria, there is no doubt the Constitution demands it be congressionally authorized,” tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
Trump was cheered on social media by some in the Arab world, referring to him as Abu Ivanka (father of Ivanka):
— Rao Komar (@RaoKomar747) April 7, 2017